eBooks on the Rise?

For as long as there has been ASCII, there have been electronic books, but every attempt to make eBooks into a commercial product with mass-market appeal has been a disappointment. However, new sales figures from the Open eBook Forum point to a 46% rise in eBook revenues in the first quarter of this year.

Additionally, Forum President Steve Potash claims that “eBooks represent the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry.”

Sadly, the titles that are shifting are not the forward-looking science, philosophy literary masterpieces I’d hoped for: Dan Brown’s nonsense numerology pot boiler The Da Vinci Code leads the bestseller chart, followed by Van Helsing by Kevin Ryan at number two.

Figures are still modest: 421,955 eBooks were sold in Q1 2004, compared to 288,440 for the same period last year. This translates into US$3.2 million (€2.6 million) in revenue, opposed to US$2.5 million (€2 million) for Q1 2003.

The market is still dogged with issues: competing formats, lacklustre content, over-priced products and expensive reading devices. People still prefer reading printed books, but the sheer convenience of being able to carry a number of titles for consulting at will has prompted people to experiment in the format. There’s still no “killer application” for eBooks (like iTunes was to the iPod), and certainly no “system seller” (for example, the Matrix DVD prompted many thousands of people to buy a DVD player), and there possibly never will, but we hope that this important media format gets the attention it deserves.

Open eBook

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?